In search of new ways to stand out among the competition this year? While innovation doesn’t typically come to mind when we think of most places we shop, this perception gives retailers and grocers of all sizes the opportunity to surprise customers with an experience they didn’t expect.
Rather than dwell on the larger, long-term innovations that require months or even years of planning and execution, we’ve compiled 3 simple ways grocers can break the mold and differentiate themselves in 2015 –– creating a brand experience that will stay ahead of the pack for years down the road.
1. Guide customers to smarter decisions through thought leadership
Consumers respect thought leaders that steer them toward the best products available. When it comes day-to-day choices, that respect has a measurable impact on sales. But how can a grocer actually become a thought leader?
One of the best examples of this type of brand building is Whole Foods, which made a name for itself in large part through its thought leadership in healthy, organic food options.
Take a look at some of the new ways Whole Foods is marketing themselves to an increasingly conscious consumer and you’ll see a variety of common threads that come together to create a more fulfilling experience, such as:
Plenty of fresh options, emphasizing local and high-quality products, for fruit, meat, and even the salad bar
Bans on various products containing additives that could be harmful to consumers
Entertaining in-store displays highlighting the origins of certain products
Bold statements regarding how a specific food is healthy or beneficial
While Whole Foods’ approach appeals primarily to the consumer interested in sustainability or healthy eating, you can shape your thought leadership around your specific customers by building expertise around the specialties you already offer.
Start by defining what already makes your store different and take those specialties to the next level by giving customers additional information about those products directly inside the store. With a mix of creative displays, updated on-shelf marketing pieces, and informed store staff ready guide customers to great products, people will quickly realize you’re invested in their experience––especially if they already enjoy what you’re doing now.
Once you define your brand through thought leadership, you can create a list of requirements for new marketing initiatives or products to ensure future offers expand upon the specialties that set you apart.
2. Let customers shop smarter
Shopping is getting smart – really smart.
We all know mobile technology and online resources make it easy for shoppers to make more informed buying decisions, but technology’s influence on the shopping world doesn’t stop there. Now, the mobile devices we carry in our pockets are making the very act of shopping radically easier.
RFID tags and other tracking have been used in the supply chain for years, but now Near Field Technology (NFC) is moving tracking technology into the hands (and the wrists) of consumers. Meanwhile, mobile tech is changing the way that people shop, compare goods, and pay. This includes innovations like:
From shopping list apps to shopping carts that use NFC or RFID to monitor what products are placed in the cart, apps and smartphone scanners provide detailed information about products when stores take the initiative to make those resources available inside the store.
As services like Apple Pay bring mobile payment options to supermarkets, the convenience of shopping will make it even easier for people to grab what they need, make a purchase and get on with their day in very little time. A quick scan at the register can automatically pay for gathered groceries via bank accounts, opening the door for many types of self-checkout and related savings.
The latest inventory and supply management software lets you know exactly when you are running low on products. You can use software to automatically order new products when levels reach a certain point, or to make sure that fresh groceries are used in the right order to avoid freezer burn or wilting problems.
Stores that adopt these cutting edge practices now have a huge upper hand when preparing to set themselves apart as consumers become increasingly tied to their devices.. However, check your budget and plan ahead carefully, because these tech upgrades can be pricey. Don’t pull the trigger on any radical remodel or technology system until you’ve conducted ROI studies to make sure there’s real value in it for you.
3. Focus on smaller, more human connections with shoppers
Not all grocers have the budget to invest in a tech remodel or new payment system. But setting yourself apart from competitors doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, most customers put far more stock in the simpler parts of the shopping experience. For those looking for an easier first step, focus on strengthening the person-to-person interactions between customers and your team members.
There are many ways to humanize the grocery experience. Whether it’s creating a more inviting, local atmosphere by filling your store with community-sourced decorations and imagery, forming partnerships with local suppliers, or planning your promotions around local events, customers value brands that make an effort to be an active part of the community.
Above all, however, not much can match the power of well-informed, knowledgeable staff. From handing out product samples to creating an upbeat atmosphere where friendly exchange is encouraged, brands like Pike’s Place and Trader Joes prove that shoppers gravitate towards brands they can relate to on a personal level.
When hiring new employees or differentiating your service approach, remember to put interpersonal skills high on the list and encourage an atmosphere where conversations and questions – and maybe even some showing off – is encouraged.
These are just a few of the simple improvements grocers and retailers can work on to set themselves apart in 2015. Want to learn more about how the little details of the shopping experience make a big impact on today’s customer? Grab our free eGuide: Improving the Grocery and Convenience Store Experience by Perfecting the Little Details.